Companies pay a lot of money to make you love your job. It’s no surprise, with employment trends revealing insightful revelations surrounding employee burnout, job dissatisfaction, toxic company culture, low pay, gender inequality, racial discrimination, lack of prospects.. The list goes on. Today, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, the whole workplace culture is undergoing a transformation, with huge benefits given an increasingly hectic workplace. Workplace evolution, company culture and employee perceptions- The end of the “career”
Despite the potential upside, some major challenges remain despite company investments in improving the workplace environment; such challenges require better communication on the employee-employee level, based on professional code of conduct but also relationships built on respect, empathy, collaboration and teamwork. Without the mindful assimilation of these values, the same abuses that made company culture toxic for many will persist, albeit in different forms and manifestations. The embrace of the virtual environment and remote work won’t do much good to our cause. After all, it’s much easier to direct hurtful or disrespectful language at a fellow colleague from behind a monitor rather than when facing them directly.
Covid-19 Revolutionizes Workplaces, Company Culture and Labor Markets
This revolution is multifaceted. One aspect is the newly-discovered flexibility that came with work-from-home during lockdown. Benefits abound, from the mom who works remotely twice a week, to the person with a disability who can more easily find a job, to the socially anxious person who is more comfortable away from people.. People leading better lives, a Pareto improvement, right? Another aspect is the increase in labour mobility. From my apartment in Chicago, I can, within weeks, start working for an international firm in New York. No need to move out to New York, no need to go apartment hunting. None of it. I can just focus on finding a job that suits my skills and aspirations. This is a boon to all the freedom-loving beings out there.
As an aside, there’s a charm to the whole “I’m moving to New York” situation. Saying farewell to friends and family, going through the whole moving out process, emptying shelves and welcoming a new beginning in NYC.. I guess that with work-from-home, we’re all staying much closer to home, parents included. And by the way, this is not to be ungrateful to Chicago town, which I’ve called home for so long. But there’s much more to gain in choice, opportunity, flexibility, lifestyle an. After all, I’m American, I just wanna be happy- and have my coffee. Check out our other article about working from home here.
A Side-Note on European Labor Mobility
I wonder how this applies to our European neighbors across the Atlantic, given the inherently rigid, inefficient labor markets. For example, if Spain goes into Recession while Germany booms, then you’d think a skilled Spaniard worker would move to Frankfurt in search of better opportunity and supply his/her labor there, putting downward pressure on the rising German wages and the appreciating German Mark (a.k.a. the German Euro- versus the Spanish Euro). In brief, the forces of supply and demand would eventually push economies and labor markets into equilibria. It doesn’t happen in practice, with all sorts of European issues, from language barriers to welfare rules and legal complexities, whatever..
Private Sector Productivity- Away from Shared Spaces
Another aspect worth pointing out is the productivity boost that appears to emerge triumphant post-pandemic. People seem to achieve company targets and personal tasks faster, more efficiently and more creatively. Companies have not complained, either, suggesting there’s a potential win-win here. If there’s anything we learned from the “shared space” experiment, it is that the more you restrict employees to a common space, the less their desire to interact, share ideas, and enjoy their work. One brush does not fit all, you know what I’m sayin’?
However, the major challenges to creating a healthy company culture remain. However much companies invest in Human Resources departments, cheerful office spaces and employee activities, the real challenge lies elsewehere. The challenge lies in the day-to-day employee-to-employee interaction. “The task you handed me 3 days ago is all wrong, I just checked it. Please fix it now since I need to submit it to the Board by tomorrow”, a colleague once told me. The short notice, the stress, the frustration, the mess, ughh!
These things happen all the time, regardless of how good or lousy a job you may have done. What remains is the need for better communication at work. Language may be hurtful and conducive to an unhealthy workplace. Bullying colleagues on a company’s online chat is flourishing, ask me about it. I, like everyone else, dream of having a “career” and getting a promotion. I, too, am saving to finally buy my own apartment. But I, like other colleagues, need to feel well in order to get on with my job and fulfill my duties. Just like I treat people with respect, I expect the same, from my peers and superiors alike. So yeah, to reiterate, the hope is that the switch to virtual environments addresses these day-to-day challenges at the human-to-human level. Such a healthy environment will allow us to really reap the benefits of the post-pandemic workplace revolution.
A Relic of the Past- The End of the “Career” Myth
“All I want is to have a successful career”. Our grandparents may have served a single institution across World Wars and Great Recessions. In the process, they earned promotions through demonstrated loyalty, recognition and hard work. Today’s world has moved on. And while this is clear to most of us, we still use language that is outdated. In this sense, the word “career” is a relic of the past. Unless we agree to redefine the term, “career” as a looser term that refers to a particular stage of one’s professional development path rather than a lifetime trajectory- then we’re actively refusing to reconcile an antiquated view of the world with actual reality.
It’s 2021. Basically, you’re just another number in a corporation. An interchangeable labourer in an organization which has all the power in this relationship dynamic. Nobody is indispensable. Thus, if you wanna go places in life, the only way to improve your professional standing and gain new skills is to jump from company to company as soon as you have the experience that enables you to take on an elevated role. So you end up at a competitor firm, or maybe dabble across industries- from sales representative to sales associate, then marketing specialist, consultant, Sales executive, and then off to a new beginning as a business analyst (learning some programming on the side), to data analyst, and then back to marketing as a Marketing data scientist.. This is a more realistic “career” path.
But you see, there’s no “career” here, but rather 2 careers, or maybe 3 actually. You’re offering your services at a given point in time, in return for a wage. As soon as you plateau, your promotion request gets rejected, or your skills go out of demand, you’re forced to go through the same old emotional roller-coaster of finding a new job, and a new purpose in life, miserable! So next time a romantic shares “career” fantasies, please stay grounded. What we really seek, maybe, is to do so something that we like, something we believe in, something that drives us. Along the way, ideally, we hope to learn marketable skills that keep us relevant in an increasingly digital, capital-intensive world.